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Homily for 2/8/04 - Prodigal Son & New Martyrs of Russia

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  • David Moser
    Today the Orthodox Church suffers from the wounds first inflicted in 1920 when the Church inside of Russia was separated from the Church outside of Russia due
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2004
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      Today the Orthodox Church suffers from the wounds first inflicted in 1920
      when the Church inside of Russia was separated from the Church outside of
      Russia due to the persecutions of the atheistic Communist government. The
      resulting chaos and confusion affected the Orthodox Church throughout the
      whole world for when one member suffers, the whole body shares in that
      suffering. Surely the other national Orthodox Churches extended their hands
      to help their suffering sister, the Patriarchs first of Constantinople and
      then of Serbia providing refuge for the archpastors of the refugee Russian
      Church and their flocks. But even so, the chaos spread and the Church was
      wounded and divided and even today we suffer from the effects of those
      injuries.

      From the very beginning of this terrible tragedy the Russian Church has
      taught her children that it has come upon us because of the sins of the
      Russian people culminating in the murder of the Tsar-martyr Nicholas - a
      national act of patricide. The result of this sin has fallen upon the
      faithful of the Russian Church. During the years from the beginning of the
      Bolshevik revolution until the fall of the Soviet Union there have been
      countless men and women who have been martyred for their faith. In the early
      years, this was especially harsh as the God-hating atheistic government
      strove to eliminate the Church by force. Within Russia, the Church was held
      captive and those within her arms were held captive. All resisted this
      captivity, some even to the death and it is these, the Holy New Martyrs of
      Russia, whose memory we celebrate today.

      For those who remained among the living, there were some who went into
      hiding, others who bore the burden of living under captive rule and others
      who went voluntarily or by force into exile. Those in exile gathered around
      their archpastors and became the nucleus of the Russian Orthodox Church
      Outside Russia. The whole of the remaining Church, both inside and outside
      of Russia have now the duty to repent before God turning their backs on the
      sins of their society and beseeching God in His mercy and compassion to
      preserve the Church and renew the life of her people. This repentance is
      offered in private prayers, in the humility of the people and together in
      the public prayers of the Church - most plainly by the Prayer for Russia
      which we say in the Divine Liturgy. And God - Who is faithful - has heard
      the prayers of His people and the yoke of captivity and persecution has been
      lifted from the Russian Church, and slowly the old wounds are healed. This
      is the effect of repentance - not the repentance of just one person, nor
      even of one generation, but by two and three generations in the Russian
      Church along with the prayers of those of us who have found our own refuge
      in this refugee Church.

      The Russian land is not the only example of how such repentance has brought
      God's mercy upon a whole people. In the Holy Scripture we see the example of
      the ancient city of Ninevah - a pagan city full of every evil. God, in His
      mercy, sent His prophet Jonah to this city to preach not repentance but the
      judgement of God and to foretell the impending destruction of the city.
      Jonah, having come to Ninevah, proclaimed the judgement of God on the people
      and warned them of the destruction of the city. But the people heard the
      judgment of God and they immediately repented, turning away from their
      sinfulness and grieving for their sins with weeping, putting on sackcloth
      and ashes and turning away from all their wickedness. God heard this great
      wave of repentance and preserved the city, saving it from the promised
      destruction. Great is the power of repentance and turning away from sin.


      There are other examples where repentance is lacking and as a result the
      judgement of God falls in full force. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were
      warned by God to abandon their evil ways and through the prayers of the
      righteous Lot God agreed to preserve the city from His judgement if even a
      mere 10 men could be found who would repent. But such men were not found and
      Lot and his whole household fled the cities as fire fell from heaven and
      consumed them. How much more could we speak of other examples where the lack
      of repentance resulted in destruction - of Egypt, Babylonia, and the host of
      others. In the same light we speak of the multitude of times when the Hebrew
      people would repent - even in captivity and exile - and God saw their
      repentance and had mercy upon them and restored them to their homeland that
      they might worship Him.


      Repentance is a powerful tool attracting the mercy and compassion of God.
      Today, the feast of the New Martyrs coincides with the Sunday of the
      Prodigal Son, which coincidence only serves to emphasize the necessity, the
      power and effectiveness of repentance for the spiritual life. Today we are
      reminded of the necessity for each one of us to repent - to turn away from
      our own wicked and evil ways. The prodigal turned his back on his Father and
      on the life of righteousness, instead indulging his own pride and his own
      passions. Such a life, a life of self-centeredness, the life of dependence
      upon one's own resources and reasoning, the life of indulging our own wants
      and desires - such a life leads finally to the place of bankruptcy, when we
      see the poverty of the soul face to face, when we reach the bottom and there
      is no place to go, no further depths to which to sink. We each find this
      bottom in our own way and at our own time - for some it is the emotional
      pain of spiritual emptiness, for others it is the physical pain of illness
      or suffering, for others it is poverty, for others the loss of all that is
      valuable in their lives, their self-esteem, their family, their career,
      their friends. In every case, hopelessness sets in and finally confronts
      each person in the quietness of the heart. At this point of hopelessness
      there remain only two choices - to choose despair and relinquish any
      prospect of hope - or to turn away from the dead end of self and focus your
      hope elsewhere. The only sure anchor and focus for our hope - the only hope
      that will not disappoint us is God Himself. All other hope is misplaced and
      will end in despair. But to place our hope in God requires one very
      important thing - it requires repentance. To place our hope in God requires
      that we turn away from the sin of self-reliance, self-indulgence,
      self-esteem and turn instead toward complete reliance, complete hope and
      dependence upon God. This is true repentance - to turn away from one's self,
      to renounce the world and all the things in it and turn instead to God and
      embrace the grace that He continually showers upon us.

      We have seen the power of repentance on the macro scale of nations and
      peoples and generations. This same power is brought to bear on the "micro"
      scale of each and every soul that repents. A repentant heart has the power
      to change the whole person. Every aspect of our existence will be permeated
      by God's grace through the doorway of repentance. With humility we confess
      our own powerlessness. When faced with this confession, our only recourse is
      to renounce ourselves, to turn away from our fallen selfishness, and through
      repentance to be filled with the grace of God. Like the prodigal we turn
      away from our sin and ascend from the depths of hopelessness and set our
      foot on the return path to our Father's house where He awaits us with open
      arms - if only we repent.
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